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The Message And The Man by J. Dodd Jackson

INTRODUCTION

|There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High.| -- Psalms.

|Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country and go down into the desert.|

|And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to the months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary; and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine.| -- Ezekiel.

|But the water is nought, and the ground barren.| -- 2 Kings.

THE MESSAGE AND THE MAN

INTRODUCTION

Among the many problems of a problem-ridden time the most important, as it is the most difficult, is that of the apparent arrest which has befallen the progress of Protestant Christianity in this and other lands. For a long period now, we have heard from the various churches an annually repeated story of decreases in membership, in congregations, in Sunday School scholars. We have been told, also, of a general decay of reverence for sacred things, of a growth of frivolity, a surrender of high ideals and of old faiths to the spirit of materialism which more and more, so it is said, dominates the age. That Sabbath of our youth; that attachment by families to the sanctuary which was so marked a feature of our national life; that fine old English home life and filial piety; that deep communal consciousness of God which, whether it produced personal profession of religion or not, did at least create a sense of the seriousness of life and duty and so make our people strong to labour and endure -- these things, we are informed, will soon be no more. Regarding the situation, all thoughtful men are concerned and some are panic stricken. The account given by the latter is to the effect that religion is losing its hold; that the Church is being left high and dry; that the morality of classes and masses alike shows darker signs of degeneration with the coming of each succeeding day.

Now, we are of those who, while trying to look facts in the face, endeavour, also, not to see double and to keep heart of hope. It is easy to make too much of statistics, and very easy, in a moment of depression, to come to conclusions concerning the state of the Church, and the life of the world, which a day of brighter and truer mood will greatly modify. There is no cause for either panic or pessimism, but there is cause for the asking of questions as to reasons for the condition of things, for the making of suggestions for their improvement.

And of such questions, many have been asked, questions relating to the Church, her methods, her teaching, her attitude to the world around her, to great social and moral issues. Of suggestions, too, there have been many, and many of them have been seriously received and adopted as the starting points of changes and modifications, the purpose of which has been to stay the progress of alleged decline in this field or in that. Beyond all admiration, has been the willingness to make sacrifices and put forth efforts to win back the wanderer to the fold which have been exhibited by those to whom changes are not always the most agreeable things in the world. The unfortunate thing is that, notwithstanding all that has been done, it cannot be claimed that the problem has been solved.

Now, it is a recognition of this problem, and of the fact that all efforts so far made to find a solution and devise a remedy have failed to meet with the success which had been hoped for, that has determined our choice of a subject for this -- the fourteenth Hartley Lecture. Can it be possible, that in some degree, the preaching of the preachers has been to blame for the things we mourn?

From America we hear of a new profession which has been called into existence as a result of the fierce competition of industrial and commercial life. It is the profession of |the business doctor,| and already the idea has been justified. All is not well, perhaps, with some great firm; rivals are getting ahead; profits are declining, and |the business doctor| is called in to investigate and prescribe. He goes from department to department, considering the methods pursued, checking the expenditure on this, on that, on the other. He interviews the partners, the managers, the men down through the various grades; the books are open to him. He presents his diagnosis and writes his prescription. The |business doctor| has been at work in the churches -- in our Church. He has looked into many things. He has made some suggestions. They have not all been foolish, but, as yet, he has not quite hit upon the very thing. He has, however, not altogether finished his work. Why should he not come into the preacher's department, into the pulpit, into the study? Why should he not be permitted to read some of those treasured manuscripts which have been -- shall we say the joy, or shall we say the discipline? -- of so many congregations? Why should he not be allowed to bring paper and pencil, and, ensconced in a pew commanding full view of the rostrum, write down the thing that is true about the part we take in the work of saving the world? Perhaps he may find that all is well. Perhaps he may find that all is not quite well. If this should be the case, how important that we should know it. Discovery is often the starting point of improvement.

That, in view of the situation referred to, we should, each of us for himself, consider his preaching, is the suggestion we would make to every preaching reader of the pages to follow. We leave the figure of the |business doctor,| for every illustration is of limited usefulness, which is a good thing to learn. There is but one authority capable of conducting this inquiry in such a way as inevitably to make discovery of the real truth. That authority is surely the preacher's own conscience as taught, illuminated and guided by the Holy Spirit. At once we make a confession: -- This lecture raises a question, but does not presume to answer it. We will be satisfied to set men asking and answering for themselves. Here is the inquiry: -- Am I, as a preacher, in any way to blame for the decline in Church prosperity, for the lack of conversions, for such signs and results of spiritual indifference as are to be seen on every hand? This question may pave the way for others: -- Is there anything amiss with the substance of my preaching, with its methods, with its spirit? If there be weakness here or there; if it lack the true note; if it have lost strength to grip, sharpness to probe, power to heal; if, in short, it lacks aught of being the means of grace it was designed to be, can it be brought, once more, on to the right lines? Our words may be as a river refreshing the Church of God, and flowing out through the portals of the sanctuary, bearing fertility and healing to the world; they may, again, from loss of virtue, fail to enrich the waiting land. There will be living trees by the living stream. There will be barrenness where |the water is nought|!

For preaching has been effective and the story thereof is a story full of glory. Within the single century of our own church history what wonderful things have been done by the ministry of the Word. It must never be forgotten by those of our fellowship that the Primitive Methodist Church owes its existence to a revival of preaching. Our founders were not seceders; they were preachers. They searched the Scriptures not to find passages to hurl at theological antagonists, or so-called ecclesiastical tyrants, but to find texts for sermons to save sinners, build up saints and glorify the Saviour whom they loved better than their own lives. These sermons they preached under the open ceiling of the skies in Summer's heat, and Autumn's storms, and Winter's snow. England had been waiting for just such preaching as these rugged men came forth in God's name to deliver, and the common people heard them gladly. Immediately succeeding our actual founders came a race of preachers who carried the glad tidings East, West, North and South, along the highways and byeways of England, gathering in the lost and folding the gathered. Some of them, we remember, and could mention them name by name but that the list is very long, and we would insist upon lingering to speak of deeds as names came forth. We must recall their triumphs, for the inspiration we will need as we pursue the task before us now.

Another thing that must never be forgotten is that, as our Church was founded by preaching, and has been built up by preaching, by preaching will it be upheld and increased, or not at all. We are forward to recognise the immense importance of other branches of service and the great part they have played in our wondrous past. The pastor carrying the message of salvation and consolation to the homes of the fallen and stricken; the teacher gathering the little ones around him Sabbath by Sabbath; the tract distributor, now, alas! too seldom seen about his work, but of great usefulness in earlier days -- these and a score of differently named toilers have laboured in the uprearing of this city of the Lord. But ever the preacher has been the leader of them all -- the pioneer, the quarryman, the inspirer. The pulpit has been ever the place of direction and, still more truly, of encouragement. The Church has increased with the increase of the Preacher. Shall we venture to prophesy? With his decrease shall come the decrease of the Church. No Church has ever flourished in which the power of the pulpit has declined. Primitive Methodism cannot afford to underestimate the importance of preaching. Her very life is in it!

So the subject of preaching is of first importance. This must be recognised by the preacher, but not by him alone. It must be recognised by the Church as well. The preacher is prone to put upon the place and work of his pulpit much the same estimate as is put upon them by his people. There is one Church in this land in which the people think little of preaching. In some great sanctuaries of that Church it is a common occurrence for the congregation to leave the building as the liturgical portion of the service comes to an end and the preacher takes his place. The preaching in that body, although it has among its ministers men who are among the pulpit princes of the age, is speaking generally, a sorrow to all who long for the coming of the Kingdom of God. |Like priest, like people,| we sometimes say. We might say with almost equal truth, |Like people, like preacher.| Are there no signs of such a belittling of preaching in our congregations as may have the effect of lowering the preacher's ideals of his labours, or, at least, of damping his enthusiasm and spoiling the joy with which his heart should always run over? Do we never hear it said that |it does not so much matter in our circuit whether we have a preacher or not|? Have we never been told that really the man most needed is |a visitor,| or |an organiser,| or |someone who can raise the wind|? |We want a sociable man,| says the steward of one station. |We want a public man who will make his mark on the civic and political life of the town,| say the brethren of another. We recognise that the gifts of men differ. We see that each, in his own order, may serve and build up the Kingdom of God, but to rank the business of preaching as second to any form of service; to care less for the pulpit than for the class-room, the social, the entertainment, the bazaar, is a fatal mistake. You may make the Church a successful business concern, an interesting and delightful social circle; you may make it a pleasant and intellectual society whither cultured people may resort for new ideas as to an exchange. All this you may do and care little concerning the preacher; but you can only make a strong Church rich in spiritual grace and knowledge and usefulness and power by fostering, with a care amounting to jealousy, the preaching of the Gospel of the grace of God. If, therefore, out of the problem we have named, there arises a question to be asked by the preacher concerning his preaching, there also arises, just as certainly, a question for the Church. It is a question as to whether preaching has always been allowed its chance amongst us, whether we have helped the preacher to realise his best possibilities by requiring them from him with an affectionate but strong insistence. There may even be another question: -- Whether we have not sometimes actually discouraged the true preacher and sent him sorrowing away, because, forsooth, it has happened that in his devotion to the great work of his calling, he has seemed to underestimate the importance of some activities we held to be within his duty. No man can be master in everything; which is one of the lessons sorely needing to be learned by us all. There have been preachers, mighty in word and doctrine, whose hearts have been broken because of the blame thrown upon them for failing to prove themselves equally skilful as financial agents. Let the Church look well to this matter. Her preachers will probably be as great, as effective, as successful as she requires and encourages them to be!

All this, however, is by the way, though of such moment that we might well linger to lay emphasis upon emphasis. For the present we are concerned more with the preacher than with his congregation. The question we desire to put into his heart has already been indicated. The inquiry is suggested for the use, not of one order of preachers but of all. In the denomination to which we belong only one preacher in eighteen is what is termed a minister. The question is proposed, not only for the exercising of this one brother, but of the other seventeen as well. It has been intimated to us that a book on this subject |might be of special use to our young men.| Glad shall we be if this prove to be the case! But not among the younger preachers alone do we seek to initiate this searching self-examination. Possibly it may be even less needful to them than to the more mature. The most dangerous days of the preacher's career are, after all, not its earliest. In the enthusiasm which, almost always, attends his launching forth into the work there is an element of salvation from some of the perils through which he may lose his strength in years when, perhaps, that enthusiasm may have passed with the novelty which now gives glamour to his tasks. Then there is still another class whose consideration we would solicit for what we may have to say. We refer to those -- and they are many -- to whom, as yet, preaching is but an ambition, a dream, a prayer. Some day they hope to stand before others, as now others stand before them, to speak forth for Christ's sake the story which has so often warmed their hearts. It is a glorious ambition; the human breast can contain no higher. Will such as cherish it join with us in thinking of these things? In order to arrive at the true answer to the questions proposed we shall need to look in various directions. As a beginning, we must, each one of us, go faithfully over his own record, tabulating results so far as they can be ascertained. We are quite willing to admit that some of the finest consequences of preaching may not be known to the preacher, but there is always material for an estimate as to the measure of success or of failure, which has attended his efforts. Let us, therefore, go back through the years, back along the path of bygone Sabbaths. Confession? No! For that we do not ask. Our discoveries may well rest between ourselves and God.

Let us make comparisons, too, however odious comparisons may be. Other men are set within our view. There are preachers -- thank God! -- to whom, even in these days, success is richly given. It may be one of God's purposes that they shall be considered as examples proving the high possibilities of the holy ministry when tuned to its highest notes. Let us relentlessly bring our work into comparison with theirs. |If he succeeds, why do not I?| The results of such a measurement may be disappointing, disquieting, humiliating, but the path to the best has often a first mile of painful self-discoveries.

Then there were the former days of our own ministries and the ideals which in those days we cherished and have never forgotten. Let us bring out present selves alongside of what we were; let us put the work of to-day alongside of the work of that far-off time; let us compare the dream with the fulfilment thereof. Have passing years dimmed our ardour? Have they chilled our love? Have we gathered pulpit powers, or lost them, as the days have flown over our heads? There is somewhere a story of a man who, on his fiftieth birthday, received a call from his own beardless self of thirty years before, and, when he gazed upon his strange guest, he wept for what his visitor must see. Can it be true that in point of effectiveness and real success some of us were better preachers in youth than we are now after years of study, of experience, of opportunity to wax greater in every way?

There is still another test. Here are human sin, human sorrow. Here are the perplexity of the perplexed, the fear of the fearful. Here Rachel weeps for her children. Here the widow and the fatherless cry aloud. Here are misery, crime, despair. The whole world is full of hunger and thirst, of grief and wretchedness, of shame and remorse. Let us bring our preaching into comparison with these!

Above all other means of coming to the truth, let us take our preaching back to Him who sent us forth. Let us, in His company, walk once more the roads of Judea; with Him let us stand on the shores of Galilee, the slopes of Olivet, the pavements of Zion, the heights of Calvary. Let us listen to His preaching and in His presence let us think of ours.

So let us follow the matter to the end, painful though that end may be. It is needful that we do indeed learn the very truth; needful for the sake of the Church. She needs the Gospel for herself. She must eat if she would live. The times are times of hardness for the flock of God. It is necessary that a table be prepared in the wilderness. The Church needs preaching, needs the inspiration of beholding the preachers' victories. Nothing strengthens an army like a triumph. The conquests of the preacher are the salvation of the Church.

For the world's sake it is needful that we come at the truth. The age may not want preaching, but it needs it. Possibly it also wants it more than we suspect. It must be preaching of the right kind, however. Preaching that lacks the qualities proper to itself is worse than useless.

For our own sake, we preachers must come at the facts as they are. It lies before us all to give one day an account of our stewardship, and the years are swiftly passing by. Now is the time for investigation. Soon will come the hour when opportunity will be succeeded by retrospect. Men have been known to make discoveries in relation to this matter when too late; when only the possibilities of regret remained. To look back over the past and think that men have suffered in relation to eternal things as a result of our lack of zeal or of faithfulness, or from some preventable defect in our dispensing of the word, must be a sad occupation for those years when the grasshopper has become a burden. The echo of our sermons will be in our ears at the last. That echo will be either a song of gladness to sing itself forever, or a lamentation to be soothed to sleep no more!

To be of some little service in the course of this personal and private inquiry this volume is sent out. It claims only to be a reminder of things perfectly well known, but of the sort that need repeating. Will our brethren of their charity acquit us of the charge of presumption in taking up the theme now timidly approached? Many, very many, who turn these leaves will bring to their perusal far greater ability, and knowledge, and experience than we are able to wield in their writing. A few men learn the value of wealth from the possession of it; more from a lack thereof. Nothing better teaches the value of money than the association in the learner's experience of hunger with an empty pocket. What slight qualification for the production of this book we possess has been obtained in a similar way. Some few things we have learned; some we have proved through our many mistakes; some, again, through our frequent failures. They will be found set down in the chapters yet to come.

As a general statement of the plan of our endeavour, it may be said that we will try to speak of some essentials of effective and successful preaching, essentials first in the preacher, then in the substance of his message, and, finally, in the form and manner of its presentation and delivery.

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